CAMBRIDGE — “Exposure” has a specific meaning in photography. It’s what happens when a lens opens and film (or the digital equivalent) is exposed to light, producing an image. Among the word’s other meanings is giving visibility to someone or something. Both meanings relate to “EXPOSURE 2023: The 27th Annual PRC Juried Members Exhibition.”
Since PRC stands for Photographic Resource Center, the relevance of the first meaning is a given. The second meaning pertains because the idea is to give the 10 PRC members whose work is on display a higher profile, and deservedly so.
The participants were chosen by juror Shana Lopes, assistant curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The show runs through Sept. 17 at Lesley University, in Porter Square. Note that the VanDernoot Gallery, where the show is hung, is open Friday-Sunday only.
It’s in the nature of juried shows to be diverse, and “EXPOSURE 2023″ certainly is. No one would mistake Jimmie Allen’s small-town Missouri with Lei Han’s Shanghai. But there’s a general sense throughout of interiority, contemplativeness, or both. It’s more condition than theme. Also notable is that the work of six of the photographers is in black and white, not something much seen these days. Finally, almost no faces appear in the 39 works on display. (Allen’s photos, with their quasi-sociological intent, are the big exception.) It’s only when seeing a face becomes the exception rather than the rule that you realize how rare that absence is.
Sometimes a face is there but concealed, as in Kathryn Rodrigues’s “Mend Myself,” a self-portrait where a small rake comes between the photographer’s face and her camera. It’s a striking image. Or it can be because a person is seen from behind, as in Amy Broderick’s “Frailty.” Broderick is one of the photographers whose work here is in color, which adds to the snapshot-like look of her images.
The richness of that color differs considerably from the drained, subdued, almost spectral hues in the three images each from Han and Yuang Li. The former show Shanghai during lockdown, a year ago. “Seemingly tranquil” the photographer calls them. That tension between adverb and adjective conveys a subtlety and disquiet reflected in the images. Those qualities are no less evident in what Li calls “hollow, eerie scenes”: urban landscapes emptied of people, spaces where the pursuit of public security can induce personal insecurity.
You could argue that the remaining photographer who uses color, Joetta Maue, may not primarily be a photographer. Her two works in the show are irregularly shaped assemblages, joining photos, drawings, and embroidery. One is large, with four combined pieces, and the other is very large, with 19. Unframed and unmatted, both works are a kind of zone, made up of varying sizes, shapes, textures, subjects, and media.
Denise Laurinaitis has six photographs in “EXPOSURE.” They have the feel of everyday family moments. Yet there’s also a sense of disorientation. Why is the girl in “Hair Donation” turned away from the camera? Why is the girl, presumably the same one, striking an abracadabra pose in “Hose Spray”? What’s that toy plane, in “In Flight,” doing hovering just over the ground? A strong sense of hovering can be felt throughout “EXPOSURE.”
Nicholas Gaffney also has a half-dozen photos, and they’re also about family. But they’re the family on the road — taking trips around New England, in 2021 — not around the house. So there’s a balance between the familiar and unfamiliar. It’s a shaky balance, as Gaffney intends. These are often photographs, he writes, where “the image is taken after the ‘decisive moment’ has seemingly come and gone.”
For a number of years, Bruce Myren has been photographing American elm trees: “to observe natural history in relation to cultural history,” as he writes. The three examples here are handsome and moving, which is to say worthy of their subject. One of them shows an elm framed between two buildings on Massachusetts Avenue, in Cambridge. Its just-so placement between the two structures is mirrored by Myren’s just-so placement of it within the frame.
The one other photographer who has an image in which a face appears is Anh-Thuy Nguyen. Her five pictures here are gold-toned salt prints. The format may not register with viewers, but their appearance will. The images, which show Nguyen’s native Vietnam, are delicate, poetic, and evocative. She used Vietnam sea salt in their making, noting that both “salt and photography are for preservation.” What a marvelous observation — marvelous observation being, in general, the goal of any photographer.
EXPOSURE 2023: The 27th Annual PRC Juried Members Exhibition
At VanDernoot Gallery, University Hall, Lesley University, 1815 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, through Sept. 17. 617-975-0600, www.prcboston.org
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.